As a current preschool teacher who previously taught second grade, there are significant differences between how I've set up my classroom this year versus in past years. One major difference: my second grade class was mostly filled with desks because I assumed my students would be sitting for most of the day, whereas my preschool classroom has a variety of spaces to accommodate sitting, standing, rolling, jumping, and more. In my classroom and in most preschool classrooms, there are designated spaces for building, resting, exploring, and even for resolving conflicts (aptly named the "Mediation Station"). When my students enter their room, they are excited about learning because there are spaces to accommodate each child's preferred learning style, and the variety of spaces invigorates their minds without being overwhelming.
This concept of creating designated activity spaces within a classroom is not foreign to K-12 classes; elementary teachers create spaces for activities such as Reader's Workshop to enable small groups of students to have sufficient teacher guidance while reading. Reader's Workshops are incredibly useful, and their effectiveness is a direct result of the way the activity is physically oriented within the classroom space: a semi-circular table with 3-6 chairs is arranged facing the instructor who sits on the inside of the semi-circle, and this arrangement is usually in a quiet part of the classroom to encourage focused attention. We can create more spaces like these in all classrooms.
Designated activity spaces would be particularly effective for elementary students who learn multiple subjects in a single classroom. For example, a circular rug on the floor of a class designated for small group discussions would facilitate in-depth dialogue between students regarding an assigned book or current events. An area showcasing models of skeletons with magnifying glasses would allow tactile learners to have a hands-on grasp of anatomy to supplement the teacher's or text's instruction. Fidget toys might be available for students to use while listening to lessons to help them stay focused. Natural materials may be present for students to feel a sense of calm or to use to solve creative engineering problems. Decor and student artwork might be hung on the walls and changed intermittently to reflect the current study. A quiet corner might be prepared for students who need time and space to unwind. Allowing students to move, stand, touch, and change scenery would remarkably increase their energy in the classroom and would increase their interest in learning. If our classrooms were primarily arranged based on the target learning activities that would take place in them, like most preschool classrooms are, those engaging activities would occur more frequently and would reach more students with multiple intelligences.
The creation of effective designated activity spaces requires first that each teacher identify the engaging and rigorous activities that students would benefit from partaking in their classroom based on the subject matter taught and the needs of the students. The activities must cater to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Second, the classroom must be organized primarily with those activities in mind in order to ensure their implementation. Third, the classroom schedule and rules must be tweaked to allow students to maximize use of the activity spaces in an equitable manner. Perhaps 15 minutes could be set aside each week for students to utilize the Discussion Corner, Library, or Building and Science Lab materials. Or alternatively, different tables inside a class could accommodate different types of seating, based on individual students' preferences. Financial and spatial restrictions will likely hinder teachers' grand plans for their classrooms, however, small, intentional, and creative changes in the class environment will likely have huge impacts on students' overall classroom experiences.
Neat rows of desks and chairs implicitly communicate to our students that learning is a passive activity; we can turn those tables around and fill our classrooms with creative furnishings and arrangements to inspire students to be more actively engaged in their own education. The fact that designated activity spaces are used for preschoolers does not make it too basic for older students; what is important is that it works for the youngest and so it will work for the inner child in every student, regardless of age.